Wednesday, 15 July 2015

#58. Jamaica – The Extreme Sprinklers

Harry Fahey: drums
Matt Hewson: bass, backing vocals
Jade McLaren: vocals
Matt Neal: guitar, backing vocals

Lyrics by Jade McLaren and Matt Neal.
Music by Harry Fahey, Matt Hewson, Jade McLaren and Matt Neal.
Written 2004.
Recorded January 2, 2005 at Kellie’s Swamp, Warrnambool.
Additional recording at Burndog Studio, Warrnambool, and Drum Drum, Warrnambool.
Produced by The Extreme Sprinklers.
Engineered and mixed by Harry Fahey.
Released on the Jamaica EP.

“Wouldn’t it be funny,” said Extreme Sprinklers singer Jade McLaren one fateful night in 2004, “to write a reggae song that was anti-drugs?”

We were sitting in his apartment above Mac’s Snacks, trying to write songs while overlooking another night of lappers and drunken brawls at the bottom end of Liebig Street. We’d recently started playing duo gigs (mostly at open mic nights) under the name of The Extreme Sprinklers, where we would smash out short sets of weird jokey songs that showcased Jade’s vocal flexibility, my rudimentary guitar-playing, our warped sense of humour, and our burgeoning songwriting skills.

“That’s a great idea,” I said readily, and started fiddling around with some chords to work with.

We'd also started moonlighting as crime-fighting superheroes.
PIC: Glen Watson. 

“I‘m not super-proud that it was my idea,” Jade said recently, possibly while drunk. “The song is fun and cool but it’s actually a pretty shit idea. It seems so obvious now.”

I disagree. Maybe there’s a whole subgenre of anti-drug reggae songs out there, but I’ve never heard of it. I still think it was a clever idea, whether Jade’s super-proud of it or not.

Musically, the starting point for me, believe it or not, was Jack Johnson, specifically the song Taylor. Previous to this fateful night, I’d been having semi-regular acoustic jams with future Extreme Sprinklers and 80 Aces bassist Matt Hewson on some covers. For some reason Hewy had been getting right into Jack Johnson and he showed me a couple of tunes off the album On & On.

Something that really struck me and had stuck with me was the strumming pattern on the song Taylor (from 0:20). It sounded reggae-ish but was pretty different to the usual generic upstroke reggae rhythm I was used to. I mentally filed the strumming pattern away in my brain and brought out a mangled re-interpretation (the best kind of interpretation!) of it when it came time to write Jamaica.

My weird version of that strumming pattern - mixed with what seemed initially to be a slightly off-kilter chord progression (C/G/Bb/G#/G) - was our starting point. From there the words flowed like wine, the melodies popped out right the first time, and the pre-chorus, chorus and middle eight appeared seemingly out of thin air. It remains to this day probably the easiest and quickest songwriting process Jade and I had ever shared.

“We just kind of lucked on to it,” Jade agreed. “The cool melodies… we lucked on to those. It was already pre-ordained, that kind of groove. We just found that spot. It wasn’t a brilliant idea or about having a great melody idea - we just rolled into it.”

Me, rolling with it.
Pic: Damian White.

We did make a mistake though. Jade’s initial suggestion was “an anti-drugs reggae song” when really what we were writing was “an anti-marijuana reggae song”. Hence in the first verse of this recorded version it mentions LSD – the only time in the song a drug other than pot is mentioned. Upon hearing the song, Jade’s brother Simon correctly pointed out we should have substituted “LSD” for “THC” in the lyrics. Of course! That was a real forehead-slapping moment. Jade sang “THC” every time we played it live after that.

The other (kinda) mistake in the lyrics is the line “red-eyed and off-head”. For some reason we’d shied away from the more profane original line “fuck-eyed and off-head”, which I’d scrawled in my notepad months prior to writing this song after hearing someone use it as a way of describing a friend who was messed up. I think we thought local radio might have played the song and erred on the non-cussing side of caution.

It might seem like a throw-away joke song, but I’m actually mildly proud of these lyrics, mostly because the joke of it actually masks a somewhat legit message – don’t stereotype people. Plus there are references to Cypress Hill and Pass The Dutchie in there.

Some time between writing the song and recording it, we became a band, with Hewy on bass and Harry Fahey on drums. Jamaica was the lone original song we played at our first two gigs, which were at a Seanchai open mic competition that guitar virtuoso John Hudson had organised. We won the competition and Huddo gave us lots of great advice in the early days of the band, in particular the advice of splitting the band into two distinct entities – a covers band (The Front) and an originals band (The Extreme Sprinklers).

We became a band.
PIC: Glen Watson.

It seems strange thinking back about it, but at the time (late 2004) there was a mini-buzz around The Extreme Sprinklers in Warrnambool, in particular around the song Jamaica. Maybe I’m imagining it, but people seemed to be latching onto that song, even from just one listen. It was a no-brainer that it should be our first recording.

Here's Jade again:

“I didn’t realise the song was listenable until (Red Eagle bassist) Brady Jones said to me, ‘Hey man, that song’s cool! Play that song – that’s my favourite!’ and I was like ‘What? Really? That stupid fucking song?’.”

This guy.

The recording of “that stupid fucking song” remains one of the recordings I am most proud of, and 90 per cent (or possibly more) of the credit goes to Harry Fahey. If I wasn’t already convinced that the man was a fucking production genius or some kind of audio wizard (or at the very least a level three sound mage or something), then the making of Jamaica sealed the deal.

With no studio, very little gear, and basically a cobbled-together recording approach, Harry exceeded all our expectations. Most of it was recorded on my computer (the same one Jade and I used to record Guatemalan Rock & Roll) with its piece-of-shit soundcard and an old ADAT tape machine plugged into it somehow (if I remember correctly). The drums were recorded to tape at Drum Drum (where Harry was a teacher), then digitised into ProTools, converted across to CoolEdit, and then we slowly added our bits and pieces – Hewy’s superlative bass line and sweet harmonies, Jade’s spot-on cod-reggae vocals, and my hack guitar-playing, with a few production spices on top for added flavour.

Here’s Harry:

Jamaica is my absolute favourite Extremes’ song ever. The buzz around it was awesome, but the best bit was recording something ourselves that actually sounded good! It is still the mix I am happiest with out of all the mixes of any songs I've done - it just sits real nice. I really dig Hewy's bass line in the bridge – it ties it all together very nicely and the little triplet hit in the middle is sweet as. And the Dolby test tones at the start of the track are the icing on the cake.”

I’m going to take credit for putting the Dolby test tones at the start of the song. They’re from my tape of Bryan Adams’ Waking Up The Neighbours album. I kid you not.

Bryan Adams aside, Harry really did a great job. As did Jade and Hewy. To be honest, it was the peak of The Extreme Sprinklers. It's just a shame it was our first song.


Don’t you pass that joint to me
I do not want any of your LSD THC
Don’t you know that fry your brain
It makes your membrane go insane

I only came here for a good time
So pass that dutchie to the right hand side, yeah

Just because I’m from Jamaica
It doesn’t mean I smoke the ganja
And just because I’m from Kingston Town
It doesn’t mean I like getting down
And just because I’m from Jamaica
It doesn’t mean I smoke the ganja
And just because I’m from Kingston Town
It doesn’t mean I like getting down

You’re all red-eyed fuck-eyed and off-head
You think there’s monsters breeding in your dreads
Well, being stoned ain’t no way to be
‘Cos I am high on life you see

And if this drug taking don’t cease
I’ll likely go and call the police, yeah

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